STAGE 1 RESTRICTIONS ARE BEING LIFTED. HOW WILL THIS AFFECT YOUR DOG AND THEIR MENTAL HEALTH?
If you’ve made it this far through the coronavirus pandemic with your mental health more or less intact, there’s a good chance it’s partly because of your dog. They’re participating in Zoom calls. They’re giving us new ways to be creative with our talents. They’re still our confidantes, our best listeners and our preferred snuggle partners.
They have also had the luxury of having our full attention 24/7.
So it stands to reason that our most loyal companions might wonder what’s going on as we see Stage 1 restrictions lifted and we gradually return to somewhat of a normal routine.
As we see coronavirus restrictions begin to ease, pet owners will have to grapple with the very real potential of their pets’ mental health declining. Sadly, this is going to be an issue for many pet owners.
This is certainly a time you are going to need to be aware of signs of depression and anxiety with your dog (and their feline counterparts).
Some of you will be leaving the home for longer periods, some may return to workplaces or start to visit friends again. In losing these longer hours with your pets, some dogs are going to have a lot of trouble re adjusting to this, especially if you have adopted a new puppy to the family during isolation.
So what are some obvious signs we should be looking for ?
Many pets display noticeable signs that they have mental health issues. Certainly dogs who display issues are more likely to destroy your house, or howl, so owners are more likely to act on these behavioural issues to receive help. Some dogs however may display signs that aren’t so obvious, so let’s take a look at these.
Pacing of a dog can certainly be a sign of anxiety. You may notice they pace backwards and forwards. This may not be noticed as much as a dog who continually barks, howls or destroys items around the home.
Dogs may also run away, scratch, or bite, which may not normally be in their nature.
More subtle signs are probably the most important as they can occur for long periods of time without an owner knowing or noticing.
Dr Seksel, a world-renowned animal behaviourist who runs the Sydney Animal Behaviour Service (SABS), says FREEZING is one of these missed signs.
According to Seksel, that is when a dog or cat will look outwardly calm, but internally they are actually frozen with anxiety.
You may see this displayed for example when you visit the vet. Your dog may appear still and calm on the outside, when internally they are actually “frozen” with fear and anxiety.
Fidgeting can be another subtle sign. These may be licking their lips frequently, yawning more than usual, shaking off like they have just had a bath and scratching when they don’t have a reason to itch.
All of these actions of course are normal, but its worth noting if they are happening at more frequent intervals and if they happen when there isn’t a natural trigger for them.
While we can monitor our dogs when we are home, they may also only display signs of anxiety when you are not at home.
Installing cameras can be a great way to monitor your dog while you are out. Subtle signs such as pacing, fidgeting or shaking off are not signs that a neighbour may complain about such as frequent barking or howling, so subtle signs can certainly be missed.
Some dogs who display anxiety may also show signs of gastrointestinal or skin issues. In this instance always seek advice from your local vet.
Certainly there are preventative actions we can take to minimise anxiety in some dogs.
Being proactive is extremely important in preventing your dog from becoming anxious or depressed.
Routines are extremely important, and dogs need to get used to being alone again for a longer period of time. It’s important to transition your dog into not having you around the house, therefore gradually setting up routines before you head back to work is a head start to your dog getting used to not having you round the house.
Crate training is especially useful in this situation, where getting a dog to recognise his crate as a safe place. This is especially important for new puppies, as it gives them a safe and secure place to be while you’re out.
There are alsoSoothing Products on the market that can help reduce anxiety in dogs. These are synthetic pheromones you can buy over the counter and can be administered by a diffuser in the home or on a dog collar.
Enrichment Productsare also a great way to help alleviate anxiety. Like humans, dogs have different personalities, so always ensure any enrichment product suits your dogs needs. For example, a dog who likes to chew, provide them with toys that they can use and chew.
Enrichment products will help your dog with mental and physical stimulation, but always think about your dogs individual needs when considering or choosing a product.
Don’t overwhelm them with too many choices. Too many choices can be overwhelming for a dog and may lead to more anxiety. Only a couple or a few enrichment products to suit your dogs needs is adequate.
While a large portion of dogs will be fine adjusting to restrictions being lifted and not having you around as much, a large portion of dogs will display mental health issues, so it’s always worth knowing what these signs are, and keeping a vigilant eye out for any out of character signs that your dog may be displaying.
Training in this instance is not going to help them if they truly have a medical disorder like anxiety.
We certainly recommend if you have any concerns with anxiety or depression in your dog, to visit your local vet and seek professional advice.